What I Learned in the ICU.

When you're in the ICU waiting room of a cancer hospital, the odds are not in your favor.  

The day we went to see my grandfather, the waiting room was packed.  There were so many hopeful faces with fearful eyes, whispering prayers over cups of lukewarm coffee they weren't really tasting.  Collectively, we would hold our breath when the door opened and someone walked through.  I don't know what we were waiting for.  Tears?  As if the safety of one person's loved one could indicate the safety of our own.  

When we made eye contact, the usual response was a sad smile.  Conversations were limited.  How can you carry on an intellectual discussion when your mind is behind that big wooden door?  All you can speak of are possibilities, percentages, and medical terms you didn't know yesterday but cling to today because they could mean the difference between a happy ending or a sad one.    

So many fears, so many tears, so many stories.

When my family left the waiting room, the door was opened wide for all of us to go back.  I didn't look behind me, didn't check the faces of the waiting community.  They would know, as I did, that the door only opened wide for those who needed to say goodbye.  

When my grandfather passed and my mother hugged me, I told her I was okay.  Repeatedly.  I said the words over and over again, like a maniac, hoping that they would sink in.  Maybe if I kept saying it out loud, my heart would stop breaking.

When I began hyperventilating instead, I realized my mantra didn't work.  After all, grief is such a heavy thing.  It weighs down the air, pulling it like gravity to the bottom of your lungs until breathing requires more effort than usual. 

And although I know how our story ended, I often think of those other faces in the waiting room.  I hope their loved ones make it.  I hope their story doesn't end there, in that waiting room, or behind that big wooden door in a room with closed curtains.  

I didn't know those people, and they didn't know me, but for a brief moment, we were a part of each other's stories.  We were community.  No one else in that hospital could empathize with us like we could empathize with one another.  

I hope for them.  Even against the odds.  Even against the beating of my own broken heart.  I hope for healing and happy endings.  And I pray for them, too.  I pray for strength and comfort if grief is necessary in their stories.  

And the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that all of life is one big waiting room.  And we're all in the middle of stories to which we don't know the end.  We sit in hopeful silence with one another, wondering what could be waiting for us behind the door.  And sometimes it's good news.  Sometimes it's a promotion or a healing or a marriage or a baby or a dream come true.  And sometimes it's not good news.  Sometimes it's disease or the loss of a loved one or just more waiting.  

I need you to hope for me when I just don't have it in me, and I need to hope for you when you're running low.  When I'm broken, when I'm a hot mess, when I'm anxiously awaiting the next step in my story, I need you.  I need community.  We all do.

Good community is hard and messy and uncomfortable.  It means being inconvenienced for the sake of your people.  It means being brave enough to allow silence to speak your heart when you can't find the words.  It means showing up in the moments when you would much rather run away.    

It means needing and being needed.  It's vulnerable and painful and such a privilege.

We need each other.  I need you, you need me (bless your heart), and we all need Jesus.   

I know that now more than ever before.


  1. Wow! You are so thoughtful for such a young lady. Thank you for those comforting words. You are correct we do need each other. I hope I am always there for anyone that needs a friend for whatever reason, maybe just a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on. Keep up the good work. I'm sure your parents are very proud of you and God is also.

    1. Thank you very much, for the kind words and for reading. :)